‘You Can’t Park There, You Are Not Disabled’
To those who judge me for using my disabled parking permit when I seemingly look “healthy and well,” please consider your words.
There are people out there who “call out” others who they think are “abusing the system” and taking up an accessible space when it looks like they don’t need it.
However, they don’t realize that their actions are affecting the mental health of a significant number of people in the disabled community — those who have invisible disabilities.
I’m sure you know what that feels like. If not, you must live in a friendly (or polite) place — in which case, I’m moving there.
It took me a long time to come to terms with my illness and be able to talk about it without bursting into tears. It took me a long time to be convinced a “blue badge,” “disabled permit,” or “handicapped tag” — whatever you want to call it — would help me. And it took me a very long time to come anywhere close to “acceptance.”
I don’t always use it, but my disabled badge has been so helpful when I do. When my legs are weak and my body is exhausted, I cannot walk very far. Getting my head around my limitations at age 29 was tough. I spoke about this on a podcast in my “ENabled Warriors” Facebook group.
But I fear using my badge every time because of snide remarks or the tutting I hear when I get out of my car.
I worry about returning to my car to find a note on the windshield. I’m grateful that I haven’t yet found a piece of paper curled around my wiper, though I’ve seen many posts online with photos of the rude notes that have been left on cars belonging to those with invisible illnesses.
I’ve experienced people shouting at me in car parks on many occasions. That didn’t make me feel good. Imagine a multistory car park with someone shouting and swearing at you, while their voice echoes around the walls. It’s enough to make anyone feel nervous, but when you’re having a bad health day it makes everything worse.
We tend to forget that person’s point of view: They see a normal-looking, “healthy” young person who is not in a wheelchair using a parking space with a picture of a wheelchair on it depicting what they think disability is.
I understand why people would be angry. Perhaps they view the scenario like a Hollywood movie featuring me as “the bad guy” and themselves in the role of a reluctant hero looking out for “people who need those spaces.” Theirs is a one-sided assumption, but morally understandable. However, when your face is on the permit, why do they question your right to use it?
If you’re reading this thinking, “Why not just tell them about your illness?” The simple answer is that during those encounters I feel weak and vulnerable. My confidence disappears. I don’t feel strong enough to walk up to a person who is swearing at me to try to reason with them. Instead, I hobble away.
What can we do to change this perception?
Would it make a difference if the words, “Not every disability is visible” was printed on the permit? If children were educated about invisible disabilities at school? Or if public places displayed signs using a variety of images depicting the different types of disability?
I believe that the world would be a more beautiful place to live in if people received more education about MS and other illnesses that can be invisible. But change will not happen unless people like us advocate for those changes.
I once heard someone comment that people only care about MS when they get it themselves or someone close to them has it. I think that is true. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we can’t relate to something unless we’ve experienced it ourselves.
What actions do you think we can take as a community to change this situation for the better? Please share in the comments below.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.